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Drug Overdose Deaths, 2016: Casualties of War

Drug overdose is now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50, the New York Times’s Josh Katz reports. In 2016, overdoses claimed somewhere between 59,000 and 65,000 lives.

That’s more American lives than were lost in the Vietnam war. It’s 20 times the casualty count of 9/11. It’s half again as many deaths as attributed to the “gun violence” we hear so much about in its peak year, 1994.

Katz pins the blame for these deaths on use, abuse, and sometimes accidental overdose of heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioid painkillers. He goes along with the current fad of calling the phenomenon an “opioid epidemic.” That’s soothingly simple. The word “epidemic” implies an infectious agent to which we need attribute neither consciousness nor responsibility.

But those 60,000 or so dead Americans aren’t victims of a faceless “epidemic.” They’re casualties of a decades-long war waged on the American public by the federal and state governments. It’s called the war on drugs, and the Times piece, curiously, doesn’t refer to it even in passing.

Here’s what life would look like in an America at peace: If you wanted an opium product for either medical or recreational purposes, you’d walk into your nearest pharmacy and buy it.

You’d get a product of known quality, quantity and purity. As long as you followed the instructions on the box correctly, your chance of overdosing would be infinitesimal.

You’d probably stop on your way home from work for your daily fix, perhaps with the milk you forgot to get while grocery shopping. It would be cheap enough that you could support your habit with a regular job like the millions of smokers, alcoholics and Starbucks customers who don’t have to burglarize homes and steal car stereos to support their habits.

Yes, that simple. Really. In fact, that’s exactly how it was before the war.

Here’s what America at war looks like:

Tens of thousands of deaths, hundreds of thousands of POWs in local, state and federal prisons, and tens of billions of your tax dollars to keep up the pace of killings and cagings, year after year, decade after decade.

Rule by people simultaneously more lethal to Americans than, and morally inferior to, Osama bin Laden (he never tried to tell us he was murdering us for our own good, did he?).

Oh, and the people who want the drugs are going to get them anyway.

Which America sounds better to you?

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Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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